I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
March 26, 2019
Shelby Bottoms has some beautiful natural features you won’t find at any other park in Nashville — including several beaver dams! But with its close proximity to urban Nashville, you and your family might see a little more than you bargained for…
We don’t get out to Nashville’s Shelby Bottoms Park all that often and that’s a shame, because it includes 960 scenic acres of wetlands, hardwood forests, and open fields along the Cumberland River. Since we live just a few minutes from Warner Park, which has some of the best city park trails and nature programs in the country, it’s much easier for us to get our nature fix there. But Shelby Bottoms has a few things Warner Parks doesn’t, including a large and active beaver population — so when one of Shelby Bottoms’ rangers scheduled a guided hike at sunset that would include a visit to a beaver dam, I rounded up the kids and braved the headache-inducing drive across town in gridlocked rush hour traffic to do it. Because we don’t get to see beavers every day. Or, like, ever.
We arrived at the park a few minutes before the sun set, when the park and the Cumberland River beyond it were bathed in a warm, golden glow. “I’m Carol and this is my husband, Bill,” an older woman said merrily, waving from the top of the nature center’s stairs. “Are you going on the hike too?” We nodded. “I’m so excited!” she continued. I’m an amateur birder.” She opened her jacket to show us her bird-printed sweater. “See? I’m a real bird nerd!”
“And I’m not,” her husband proclaimed behind her.
“Oh, Bill!” Carol exclaimed.
Carol, a former schoolteacher, proceeded to regale us with stories and photos on her phone of all the birds she’d seen on other recent bird walks. She also asked us lots of questions about our lives and the kids’ favorite subjects and activities. “Don’t you just love nature?” she giggled.
“NO,” her husband said loudly. “Oh, Bill!” Carol burbled. This was their schtick and clearly, it worked for them.
The park ranger showed up and we took to the trail just as the sun set behind the trees. We saw a few birds. And bats. And tree frogs. We listened to Carol’s stories. We asked the ranger lots of questions. And we passed a drugged-out guy and girl who looked us up all and down appraisingly and inspired me to quietly get my pepper spray out of my backpack and put it in my pocket — because getting mugged on a nature walk is not my idea of Living My Best Life.
As we continued searching the park around us for animal activity, we heard a commotion deep in the thicket beside us. Our group paused and I peered through the brambles excitedly. Was that a deer? Or perhaps a bobcat? Or was it…? No. It couldn’t be. Was that someone’s bare butt? On our Nature Walk?
“I AM NOT LOOKING OVER THERE,” my son said loudly all of a sudden. “I AM NOT LOOKING OVER THERE ANYMORE.”
“No,” Carol agreed somberly. “You definitely should not look over there.”
“Um, sometimes visual artists like to come here and take pictures… or shoot video,” the ranger said, at a loss.
“Oh, is that what we’re calling it now?” Carol asked. “Okay.” We walked on. Suddenly, our guided hike had gotten a lot more interesting.
“Well, it is Shelby Bottoms,” I whispered to my son.
“MOM,” my son said disgustedly.
After a few more minutes of walking, we left the greenway and crossed over a boardwalk.
The sun had just dipped below the horizon and the trees surrounding us looked unearthly in the impossibly still water. All around us, tree frogs sang loudly. It felt like we were in another world, miles away from any city. We all grew still for a long moment, standing, listening, looking around us. It was beautiful. This alone has made the trip worth it, I thought to myself.
As daylight faded to dusk, we walked on, through a field where deer paused in their grazing to watch us pass and a woodcock called from a nearby stand of trees. Then we turned off the trail into the woods. In the gloom, we could barely make out the narrow path before us. Suddenly, crashing sounds all around us interrupted the stillness. Apparently, we had interrupted some sort of evening deer drug deal, because at least ten deer bucked and snorted and leapt and fled as we made our way through the trees. The ranger motioned to us all to be quiet as we emerged onto a wooden walkway separating two halves of a small pond. To our left, a beaver broke the surface of the water, then disappeared beneath us. We were standing on top of a beaver dam! Another beaver emerged on our right and swam around for a minute or so before one of our group made a noise and he saw us. He beat his tail against the water with a surprisingly loud thwack and dove down into the water.
No, this is not the actual beaver. It was dark and I don’t have those kinds of photography skills. Plus, I was enjoying the moment. Just imagine this guy swimming around in a pond — That is what we saw.
As my kids get older, it’s becoming harder and harder to impress them — We take them to concerts and Broadway shows, waterfalls and canyons, kayak trips and much-hyped restaurants, and the response is often a hearty ‘meh.’ Their ambivalence had been palpable earlier when I told them we were driving through heavy traffic all the way across Nashville to go on yet another guided nature hike. But on this night, they saw actual living beavers. AND THEY WERE IMPRESSED. I swear, I felt like angels were singing as we emerged from the woods and headed back toward the parking lot. It turned out to actually be a dirty aspiring country music singer with a ukulele who wanted $15 in gas money to get back to Indiana, but whatever man. I’m chalking this up as a MOM WIN.
Perhaps at this point, you’re wondering what your takeaway is here. Oh friends, have I got a takeaway. It is super easy to see these beavers in the wild yourselves. We took the long way to the beaver dam, but it’s actually a quick walk from the Nature Center parking lot to get there.
Grab a map at the nature center or pull one up on your phone and look for Hidden Pond on the map. You’ll turn left at the main trailhead, walk about a quarter of a mile, and turn off onto the dirt path leading to Hidden Pond. Almost immediately, you’ll see the pond and the walkway between it. Come up to it very quietly just after the sun has set, wait a few minutes, and it’s very likely you’ll spot beavers swimming around on each side. You can’t help but notice how they’ve built up the dam underneath the path as well — There are half-gnawed sticks everywhere. Be sure and bring binoculars so you can see the beavers up close. There are other beaver dams at the park, but this is the one I know about and it’s incredibly easy to get to.
I’m already planning to make the trip again so that my husband can see them. It’s a great thing to do before having dinner in East Nashville and an unforgettable moment, no matter your age.